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Seoul, South Korea — North Korea said on Friday that its cruise missile launches this week were part of mock nuclear attacks that also involved detonation by an alleged underwater drone as leader Kim Jong Un pledged to ” plunging his rivals into despair”.

North Korea has stepped up its weapons displays in a tit-for-tat response to military drills between the United States and its ally South Korea aimed at countering the growing nuclear threat from the North. The allies wrapped up an 11-day exercise on Thursday that included their biggest on-the-ground training in years, but North Korea is expected to continue weapons testing as the United States plans to send an aircraft carrier to the next few days for another series of joint exercises with the south.

Pyongyang’s official Korea Central News Agency said Kim oversaw a three-day drill that simulated nuclear counterattacks on enemy naval assets and ports that involved detonating mock nuclear warheads. KCNA said the drills were aimed at alerting the United States and South Korea to an impending “nuclear crisis” as they continue their “intentional, persistent and provocative war drills” which the North describes as rehearsals of ‘invasion.

The report came hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol pledged to make North Korea pay for its ‘reckless provocations’ as he attended a memorial service honoring dozens of South Korean soldiers. killed in major clashes with the North near their western maritime border in recent years. .

KCNA said the latest drills have verified the operational reliability of an underwater nuclear attack drone the North has been developing since 2012. It said the drone was deployed off the North’s east coast on Tuesday, a traveled underwater for nearly 60 hours and detonated a test warhead at a target representing an enemy port.

North Korea is believed to have dozens of nuclear warheads and may be able to fit them to older weapon systems, such as Scuds or Rodong missiles. However, there are different assessments on how far he has advanced in designing these warheads to accommodate the new weapons he has been developing at a rapid pace, which may require further technology upgrades and testing. nuclear.

Speaking to lawmakers on Thursday, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup said the North likely has not yet mastered the technology to arm its most advanced weapons, while acknowledging that the country was doing “significant progress”.

“Pyongyang’s latest claim to have a nuclear-capable underwater drone should be met with skepticism,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “But it is clearly intended to show that the Kim regime has so many different means of nuclear attack that any preemptive or beheading strike against it would fail disastrously.”

On Wednesday, North Korea also tested cruise missiles in launches that were detected and made public by the South Korean military. It also staged another simulated nuclear attack with a short-range ballistic missile on Sunday and flight-tested an intercontinental ballistic missile last week that may be able to reach the continental United States.

KCNA said Wednesday’s tests included four cruise missiles and two different types. The missiles flew for more than two hours over the sea while demonstrating an ability to hit targets 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) and 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) away. He said the missiles’ fake nuclear warheads had detonated 600 meters (1,968 feet) above their targets, which would have verified the reliability of their nuclear explosion control devices and warhead detonators.

KCNA said Kim was pleased with the three-day drills and directed additional unspecified tasks to counter “reckless military provocations” by his rivals, indicating North Korea would further step up its military displays.

Kim “expressed his willingness to plunge the US imperialists and the (South) Korean puppet regime into despair” with powerful demonstrations of his military nuclear program to impress on his rivals “that they will lose more than they will get with the expansion of their joint exercises.

Kim posted similar language on Sunday after a test-fire of a short-range ballistic missile from what may have been a silo dug into the ground. North Korean media said a fake nuclear warhead placed on the missile was detonated 800 meters (2,624 feet) above water, an altitude some experts said was intended to maximize damage.

It was the first time North Korea had released such an altitude to detonate a nuclear weapon, although it has previously claimed to have carried out mock nuclear strikes on its rivals.

Yoon condemned the North’s ‘unprecedented missile provocations’ as he delivered a televised speech at an event to honor 55 soldiers who died in three major naval skirmishes with the North near the western sea border disputed since 2002. They include 46 sailors killed during the 2010 sinking of the warship Cheonan, which Seoul blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack, although the North has denied any involvement.

After speaking the names of each of the 55 soldiers at the event at a national cemetery in Daejeon, Yoon pledged to strengthen South Korea’s strike and missile defense capabilities and expand cooperation on security with the United States and Japan to counter the advance of the North’s nuclear arsenal.

“(We) will ensure that North Korea absolutely pays the price for its reckless provocations,” Yoon said.

The North has fired more than 20 ballistic and cruise missiles at 10 different launch events this year as it tries to diversify its delivery systems and display a dual capability to conduct nuclear strikes both on South Korea South and on the American continent. North Korea is already coming off a record year of testing activity, with more than 70 missiles fired in 2022, as Kim accelerated a campaign to force the United States to accept the idea of ​​the North as a nuclear power and to negotiate much-needed sanctions relief. from a position of strength.

South Korea and the United States responded by expanding their joint military exercises that had been scaled back in previous years. Seoul’s defense ministry said this week that South Korea and the United States planned to conduct a live-fire exercise on an “unprecedented” scale in June.

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North Korea says it simulated nuclear attacks with drones and missiles

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